4 Decades, Part 4 – 30 to 39 years

Written by todd on October 19th, 2013

I’ve reached the fourth and final decade in my recollections on turning 40. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) In this latest ten years are some of the biggest moments, largest risks, and most unexpected cherished memories.

The year I turned 30 brought with it many highlight moments.

I spent a few days leading up to this milestone on a camping trip in Yosemite Valley with great friends. The morning of my birthday they all finished their trip but I began my second solo-trip. My wife reluctantly dropped me off in Tuolumne meadows and I started a three day, thirty-mile, walk back to Yosemite Valley.

I took many solo trips, but this one remains the most iconic. The first night found me beneath Cathedral peak with incredible views and real cold even though I stayed warm enough outside the tent gazing at stars. The second day I pushed too hard, finding myself exhausted and nearly sick when I finally stopped for the night. While I normally enjoyed the time alone I felt so awful and lonely that I nearly broke down and called my wife just to hear her voice. But, I didn’t have reception. I was truly alone, which of course was the original point of these solo trips. As the sun set that evening I snapped a photo of purples and pinks on the mountainside that to this day remains one of my wife’s favorite photos ever. The photo holds such mixed emotions for me; beauty, suffering, blessing, and solitude all in one shot of the mountains.

The next day was easier and I scaled the back of both Cloud’s Rest and Half-Dome. I sat on the edge of Half-Dome, feet dangling over the edge with thousands of feet of air below. I took a picture of my shoe and the expanse. I found I had cell reception to call my wife. I made sure the first thing out of my mouth was telling her I was okay and then I enjoyed the chance to reach out and have her with me as I sat there on the edge.

Day three, when I reached my car in Yosemite Valley provided me with my favorite drive I’ve ever done down these roads. Darting through the mountains in my Z set the stage for a completely new direction in my life that wouldn’t bloom for years.

Back into civilization, Lord of the Rings continued to provide bizarre and amazing life experiences and I began to really take them in as the unique moments they were (a rare gift for me as I’m generally everywhere but in the moment). I was assigned to work the Premiere screenings in London and Paris and almost missed my flights in an attempt to land in NY, pickup my updated passport, and then still catch my international flight. I remember directing a Russian Cab driver through La Guardia cargo area while my wife had me on one phone and the folks with my passport on another. Miraculously, I made my flight, and it was the beginning of a profound experience.

In London I took my few hours of downtime, fought jetlag and went to my old house in Weybridge. I walked from the train station to our old front door and rang the bell. The woman inside revealed they’d bought the house from my parents and allowed me to look around at my leisure. This was one of the most surreal experiences of my life, as everything felt completely familiar but was half the size of my memories. The whole time I was overwhelmed with a sense of warmth and happiness, telling me anew how much I enjoyed my time here.

In Paris I had a day of work and then a day to play tourist. We were put up in a hugely expensive hotel and endured a Riot in the midst of the film festivities. It was one of the stranger Premieres I ever worked. The next day I was almost completely on my own and saw Notre Dame in the morning followed by attempting the world’s fastest walking tour of every room in the Lourve. Leaving the huge castle of the Lourve in the late afternoon, I spied the Eiffel tower in the distance. I decided to walk toward the tower, figuring I’d spy a taxi along the way. I walked the whole way, enjoying the experience and arriving at the tower as the sun set and the clouds turned orange and purple. I’ve never wanted my wife along with me more than this one day in Paris. I took some great pictures of the Eiffel tower but knew nothing could capture this like I wanted.

Incidentally… it seems I take cool photos when I’m missing my wife. While a surprising photographic technique, I think I’d rather just have my wife along.

With Lord of the Rings behind us, New Line began to coast. The studio released a long slate of terrible and under-performing films, all while celebrating themselves as the amazing film studio behind LOTR. I became extremely disillusioned. I was increasingly vocal about my displeasure and the studios deteriorating situation, all while being told everything was fine. My boss stood up for me more than once. It was great of him to do it, but I shouldn’t have made it necessary.

My vitriol went with me everywhere, and was a constant presence in the gatherings we had in our home. Here I was, a guy with a seemingly great Hollywood job, expressing my displeasure to people who’d been in LA for five minutes. While I know it served as a good dose of LA reality to some of them, I can’t say I’m proud of my demeanor in that season.

Overtime I was becoming harder to live with, and my studio job was stealing my joy. While I’d looked for other opportunites I didn’t like the idea of leaving my New Line job for the same kind of job somewhere else. I wanted and needed a creative say in projects.

My outlet continued to be screenplays and shortfilms. In 2006 I had the chance to finish my favorite script and work on my favorite film… both were Westerns. The screenplay “Tranquility” got amazing response from readers and continues to limp toward production even to this day. The short film “Steadfast” was one of my favorite experiences as a director even though it was crammed into the questionable format of the 168 film festival. I felt at home in these creative roles and it only served to make me more aware of my New Line situation.

In the summer of 2007, just before I turned 35, I walked into my boss’s office and told him I was leaving New Line. “Where you going?” he asked. “I’m just going,” was my only response. We’d worked together nearly a decade and he was stunned. My wife and I had agreed I needed to get out and we were taking this scary leap into nothing together. All my coworkers were a combination of jealous and horrified.

By the next summer nearly everyone I worked with was out of a job.
I spent the eighteen months focused on creative endeavors. I wrote more. I found freelance editing jobs where I was actually the editor instead of the guy nodding from the client’s chair. And I shot a pilot for our car show, “Everyday Driver”.

I would have never guessed the steps that would lead to “Everyday Driver”. My mostly dormant car obsession was spurred by my 300zx. Of the three roommates I’d met when I moved to LA, the one that still remained was extremely car savvy and had slowly grown into one of my closest friends. And while I’d never had any interest in being on camera before, in my mind there was no other way to do our show than to put ourselves in as hosts.

We began shopping our pilot in 2008, right around the time the economy was taking a dive and no one was taking any risks. We turned to the internet because it was our only outlet for the things we’d shot. We pushed for more access to cars, but the show remained a some-time hobby until mid 2009.

By then, many other crazy things had happened.

My wife had starred in multiple back to back theater productions, and while she was happy in that world, she was unhappy at home. Our years of avoiding parenthood had begun to grate on her. Plus now that I was around every day but making very little, it added to our stress and the unknowns of our future.

At this point we had a dog and a condo that seemed like an actual home, but in many ways we still didn’t feel grown up. In the two years from 2008 to 2010 nearly everything that could change in our daily routine would be up-ended in both challenging and amazing ways.

I traveled to Hawaii to help one of my best friends film a documentary on Zack Sunderland, a 16 year old sailing around the globe alone. I saw parts of Hawaii and culture I would have never seen otherwise and wound up in Kauai meeting surfer Bethany Hamilton. When our shooting was done for the day I got a surfing lesson from Bethany and her family. I still almost can’t believe this happened, but the memory stays clear. It’s paired with the moment when I paddled into the surf and Bethany easily paddled past me – nothing let’s you know your limitations like getting schooled by an 18 year old girl with one arm!

I was hired to re-edit a feature film and try to wrestle first time filmmakers through the post-process. In the end I know I made the film better, but still can’t recommend anyone watch it on purpose.

One of my scripts sold, a horror film idea called “Fight or Flight” and it rushed toward production in December of 2008. I was picked to direct the film and there was a flurry of budgeting, scheduling, and revisions up to three weeks before the start of camera-roll. Then the money vanished and it all fell apart.

A year later, a vastly changed version of the script was made by another director while I sat in a Hospital with my wife and newborn son. That was an insane amount of change in one year, and there was no question I was in the right place in that moment. I remain a reluctant father, but the boy surpassed the film on his first day.

Our son arrived in the midst of another film. My script “Being” had started production during my wife’s troubled pregnancy and continued after our boy was born. This was a tiny production, staring one my best friends and biggest fans of the script. There were days of directing this project that surpassed any expectation. Other days were plagued with petty politics and inefficient difficulty. We shot about ½ the film when things came to a stop. I held out hope for a while, but the season that allowed us to start the production definitely ended, and it will probably never be completed. I hate this.

By the summer of 2010 my little family was out of money, out of options, and headed out of LA. I’d looked around for work in many places and found a potential opportunity in Salt Lake City with a chance to live in Park City, Utah. We jumped.

Even though I’d been to Park City for Sundance on a few occasions we were moving to a place I’d barely visited and somewhere my wife had never seen. It was a huge gamble and felt like a last chance to strike out on our own. By the end of June my wife and son were on a plane to Salt Lake while I was still loading our life into a moving truck.

I was sweating through our move surrounded by friends when my wife called me from Utah. She was seeing Park City for the first time and called to say “It’s beautiful”. I was in the elevator at the time, drenched in sweat and exhausted. I nearly cried. It felt like hope of brighter days to come.

Since the move we have been blessed, but like all things in life it brings both good and bad. We left a group of friends who had grown into family. The magnitude of this hurt didn’t even land until we’d been away for some time and realized how simple all our new friendships felt compared to the weight and complexity of those left behind.

I stepped out of Los Angeles, which brings with it a sudden feeling that opportunity and success are now impossible. This isn’t true, of course, but after so many years in the big-talking flow of Hollywood, stepping out feels very quiet. It can breed complacency. It can also be inspiring.

We’re blessed with an amazing home, our first house as we could never afford one in LA. I still marvel that this is our home, but the mortgage is actually less than our rent was in Glendale. We struggle in debt, most of which was incurred in the difficult years between leaving New Line and buying our home. Our jobs are wonderful and our bills are paid, so overall it feels like victory.

When I stop and think about the 15 years of our marriage, I realize that many of the dreams we’ve had together have been realized in Park City. Never in a million years did I think my life would lead me to living in Utah, yet here we are. If nothing else it proves to me how life doesn’t follow a plan and can be better in the discovery. The boy and the dog now have a lifestyle so spectacular they don’t even know they’re spoiled. Park City is the kind of place I’d love for our son to grow up and I hope we can put down roots here long-term.

The five years from leaving New Line in 2007 to 2012 are packed full of huge change and enormous struggles. Though I tried to steer the ship, I often felt swept along and out of control. This time period combined with fatherhood has taught me a poignant lesson…

The current moment, these seconds passing me by, are more important than anything in the future or the past. I naturally live in a state of examination, bemoaning the things I should have done and steering my current actions for benefit in my future. As a result I miss a lot of perfect moments and lessons wrapped in right now.
Forty years in, and I’m just now starting to live.

So I try to take note of perfect moments when they happen. Many times they are tiny flickers of experience that make a special life. Along the way I continue to chase my passions, and I’ve been incredibly surprised at how Utah has provided opportunity.

A few weeks before my 40th Birthday I completed my first feature length project. Through Everyday Driver I was blessed to drive 8 Porsche 911s representing the cars first 50 years and in less than two months I crafted it into a film. In many ways it was a great distillation of the lessons and work of all the years before. Each day of shooting offered moments to remember. The experience was worth more than can be counted, and a unique car opportunity that has been granted to very few.

My wife and I celebrated our 15 years and my 40th with a getaway to Vegas. We spent a lot of time reflecting on the past, and dreaming of the future. And yet we both lived in the moment with an ease that often eludes me. I felt timeless in that week. And blessed. Whatever lies ahead in the decades to come I’m excited to find it, revel in it, and hopefully grow as a man, a husband, and a father.

There’s a lot to do.

 

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